An Overview Of The Gospel Of Matthew

The Writer Of The Gospel Of Matthew

The writer of the Gospel of Matthew did not identify himself by name.

The ancient church unanimously credited this gospel to the apostle Matthew. No other writer has ever been suggested as its author. Beginning with the most ancient evidence Matthew was regarded as the author of the first gospel, which was accepted as inspired Scripture. The Epistle of Barnabas, dated A.D. 130, regarded this gospel as Scripture and Matthew as its author. The letters of Ignatius and Polycarp from the first half of the second century indicate that the congregations were familiar with the Gospel of Matthew at that early date. Clement of Alexandria in the second century was also knowledgeable of this gospel. The work entitled The Didache, dated during the first half of the second century, used Matthew 6:9 to encourage Christians not to pray like the hypocrites but to pray the Lord's Prayer. The Didache also quoted Matthew 7:6, was familiar with Matthew 28:19, and shows it was knowledgeable of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel.

Some have alleged that Matthew's gospel was originally written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek by an unknown translator. This hypothesis stems from a statement made by Papias around A.D. 125 that Matthew had written sayings of the Lord, logia, in the Hebrew language. Perhaps Matthew did write a Hebrew document with a collection of Jesus' sayings. This, however, does not mean that document was necessarily what we now know as the Gospel of Matthew. If the apostle Matthew did indeed write a Hebrew Gospel as alleged, being an apostle his Hebrew Gospel would have certainly been used and circulated within the ancient church. Yet no one in ancient antiquity ever saw such a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. The effort to prove on the basis of linguistic evidence that Matthew's gospel was translated from a Hebrew original into the present Greek text has proven to be unsuccessful. Linguistic scholars have indicated the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew reads like a Greek original.

The hypothesis that asserts the Gospel of Matthew was originally only Matthew's collection of the Lord's sayings, which the church then embellished into its present form, and which was later translated by an unknown translator, rejects the gospel as a unified composition in its entirety and written by a single inspired author, namely Matthew. This hypothesis turns the gospel into a collection of sayings and embellishments written by a number of writers, of which we have a translation rather than an inspired Greek text. This hypothesis will be afforded no credibility by anyone who believes in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, which have been preserved and handed down to us in their present forms.

As for the person of Matthew, before his becoming a disciple and apostle of Jesus, he was a tax collector in Capernaum. He was also known by the name of Levi (cf. Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). Being a tax collector, Matthew must have had to bear the scorn of the Jews, who despised the tax collectors for collecting taxes for the Romans and for over taxing them so that the tax collectors could enrich themselves at their expense. The Jews branded the tax collectors as “sinners” and treated them as outcasts who were to be avoided at all costs (cf. Matthew 9:10,11; Mark 2:15,16; Luke 5:30) Perhaps Matthew deserved the treatment he received as an outcast from the Jews. To have become a tax collector, he may have had to abandon the Lord and the faith of the Old Testament Israel with its promises of the Messiah, in order to commit himself to a materialistic life of enriching himself at the expense of others. Matthew is therefore likely to have experienced Jesus' call to be his disciple and apostle as an act of sheer, divine grace. He by grace was afforded the opportunity to repent of a self-serving life to turn to God to receive his saving grace in Jesus Christ.

When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, Matthew left everything behind (cf. Luke 5:28) to follow Jesus, whom he thought may be the long-promised and awaited Messiah. Having experienced Jesus' grace in calling him, despite his being an outcast “sinner”, Matthew was eager to introduce other “sinners” to the grace of Jesus. Matthew quickly gave a dinner in Jesus' honor for his friends and fellow tax collectors (cf. Luke 5:27-29). There Jesus told the self-righteous Pharisees and teachers of the law that he had come to call, not the righteous, but the “sinners” to repentance (cf. Luke 5:30-32; Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:14-17).

Little else is known about the life and work of the apostle Matthew from the Scriptures. From Mark 2:14 we learn that he was the son of Alphaeus. Matthew referred to himself only once in his gospel after his account of Jesus' calling him. Matthew included himself in the list of the apostles as “Matthew the tax collector” (cf. Matthew 10:3). Aside from Matthew's being called by Jesus and the dinner he gave in Jesus' honor, the other gospels and the Book of Acts only mention him by name in the lists of the apostles (cf. Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).

For Whom The Gospel Of Matthew Was Written

Matthew wrote his gospel for Jewish Christians and Jews who were familiar with the Old Testament, that they may know Jesus was the Messianic King foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is evident this was the case, because Matthew's gospel contains more quotations of and allusions to the Old Testament than any other book of the New Testament.

Date The Gospel Of Matthew Was Written

The tradition handed down from the ancient church is that Matthew's gospel was the first of the gospels to have been written. The actual date of its writing is unknown. A date of A.D. 50 to 60 has been suggested as a probable date. The gospel itself contains no internal evidence that would make it possible to determine the date when it was written.

An early date of A.D. 50 to 60 is a good probability in light of what is known about the Gospel of John. The manner in which the apostle John wrote his gospel makes him indirectly a credible witness to such a possible early date. John wrote his gospel in Ephesus around A.D. 85. It is apparent that by that time he was quite familiar with the contents of the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and that he accepted them as Scripture. For he wrote his gospel in a manner which supposed and required his readers' previous knowledge with those synoptic gospels. John skipped much of the material covered in the three synoptic gospels and filled in the blanks and the gaps that the other three gospels did not cover. Based on this manner in which John wrote his gospel in A.D. 85, the Gospel of Matthew, as well as those of Mark and Luke, must have been written prior to that date.

Place Where The Gospel Of Matthew Was Written

The place where Matthew wrote his gospel is unknown. The suggestion, that since he wrote his gospel for Jewish Christians and Jews, he must have written it in Palestine, is at best a guess.

Purpose Of The Gospel Of Matthew

Matthew's gospel is a powerful book attesting to God's call to repentance and grace in Jesus Christ. Having experienced firsthand the amazing grace of God in Christ's calling him to repentance and faith for salvation, Matthew presented in his gospel the Lord's call as a call to complete commitment. As a disciple of Jesus one must totally embrace Jesus as the Messianic King and his gospel of forgiveness, as well as be committed to separating himself from all evil so his righteousness may exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

Matthew's purpose was to present Jesus Christ of Nazareth to Jewish Christians and Jews as the Messianic King whose coming was foretold in the Old Testament. In Matthew 1:1 Matthew declared that Jesus is the Son of David, meaning the King whose kingship and throne would have no end, and who would build en everlasting house for the Lord, which is the New Israel and Holy Christian Church (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 9:6,7). In the same opening verse of his gospel Matthew further declared that Jesus is the son of Abraham, meaning the promised Messiah and heir in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed (cf. Genesis 12:3).

Having declared Jesus is the Messianic King promised in the Old Testament, Matthew's purpose was to declare that Jesus established his everlasting kingdom: First, through his preaching and teaching (cf. Matthew 4:17-16:20); Second, by means of his suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead (cf. Matthew 16:21-28:20).

Placement Of The Gospel Of Matthew In The New Testament Canon

The placement of Matthew's gospel first in the New Testament canon is fitting. Matthew's gospel links the New Testament to the Old Testament. It bridges the 400 year gap of the intertestamental period between the close of the Old Testament and the dawning of the New Testament era of Christ the Messiah. It includes Jesus' declaration that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, a designation for the Old Testament (cf. Matthew 5:17). It shows that the Christianity of the New Israel did not replace the religion of the Old Testament Israel but fulfilled it and carried it forward. Christ is presented as the consummation of the Old Israel's history and the fulfillment of the Old Testament's prophecies. Matthew made this evident by quoting from or alluding to more Old Testament prophecies than any other book of the New Testament. It has been said Matthew's gospel contains 50 or 60 or more such quotations and allusions.

Matthew's gospel appearing before the other three gospels also harmonizes with the tradition that his gospel was the first gospel to be written.

Theme Of The Gospel Of Matthew

Jesus Is The Messianic King

The Gospel Of Matthew Has A Religious Didactic (Teaching) Character.
Within a general chronological framework and sequence of events in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth the arrangement of Jesus' works and deeds in the Gospel of Matthew is topical rather than chronological. Matthew massed and marshaled the facts about Jesus and his works and deeds in units of threes, and fives, and sevens.

The Structure Of The Gospel Of Matthew:
Matthew wove a simple biographical structure and a complex topical structure into a unified framework from the start of his gospel to its finish. He did so to confront people with the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah who was promised to Abraham and the King who was promised to David. Jesus is the Messianic King, the true Israel, who came from the Old Israel to establish God's New Israel, the New Testament Church of God.

The Biographical Structure Of The Gospel Of Matthew:
The simple biographical framework of Matthew's gospel consists of two parts, both of which are introduced with the words: “From that time...” The first part begins with Matthew 4:17 and is about Jesus' work as the King who establishes his kingdom in the hearts of people by means of his preaching and teaching. The second part begins with Matthew 16:21 and is about Jesus' work as the King who establishes his kingdom while going to the cross and by means of his suffering and death on the cross.

The Topical Structure Of The Gospel Of Matthew:
Matthew organized his gospel into the following seven parts:

The Introduction: Jesus, the Messianic King, is introduced to the Jews and to all future readers of the gospel. The introduction begins with Matthew 1:1 and extends to Matthew 4:16.

Note: In the introduction Matthew cited how seven Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, making Jesus the link to the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. See Matthew 1:22,23; 2:5,6; 2:15; 2:17,18; 2:23; 3:3; 4:14-16.

The First Major Discourse: Matthew 5-7
The introduction to the first major discussion consists of Matthew 4:17-25.

The First Major Discourse Itself: Matthew 5-7.

The Second Major Discourse: Matthew 10
The introduction to the second major discourse consists of Matthew 8:1-9:38.

The Second Major Discourse Itself: Matthew 10

The Third Major Discourse: Matthew 13
The introduction to the third major discourse consists of Matthew 11:2-12:50.

The Third Major Discourse Itself: Matthew 13:1-52 (This is the great parable chapter.)

The Fourth Major Discourse: Matthew 18
The introduction to the fourth major discourse consists of Matthew 13:54-17:27

The Fourth Major Discourse Itself: Matthew 18

The Fifth Major Discourse: Matthew 23-25
The introduction to the fifth major discourse consists of Matthew 19:2-22:46

The Fifth Discourse Itself: Matthew 23:25

The Conclusion: Matthew 26:1-28:50